It’s a sun-drenched Christmas Eve in Los Angeles when transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitanna Rodriguez) gets back on the streets after a stint inside. Over breakfast, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets slip that Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend Chester (James Rasone) is sleeping with another woman (or “fish” – a non-trans women). This leads her on a frenzied revenge mission to find them both, via meth parties, donut shops and endless street corners.
In the meantime, Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) with a taste in picking up pre-op trans hookers and having quickies in carwashes is also trying to find Sin-Dee for some fun, which does not go down well with his extended family…
Much has been said about how Tangerine was shot entirely on 3 iPhone 5s and edited on Final Cut Pro and Da Vinci Resolve for colouring. Yet where this was clearly a budgetary convenience, the restraint gives the film a hugely stylish dazzle. Because of the single lens, the whole film is deep focus and mostly low angle – and fully cool. ‘90s cool. Larry Clarke, Aronofsky, Richard Linklater, early Kevin Smith cool.
The two lead actresses are both non-professional, but give more compelling performances than any Inside The Actors Studio residents. Apparently the dialogue was mostly crafted and transcribed during rehearsals, and it is delivered with such delicious shade. The music and sound is also masterfully mixed, decisively proving that what you can compromise on picture, you have to spend time and money in sound design.
Tangerine is radical and brilliant for so many reasons. The narrative is fresh, the casting is honest, the filmmaking is punk, the music is brash and exciting, and it is really fucking funny. It also replaces Die Hard as officially the coolest Christmas film ever made.